Utopia High and the power of blogging

February 28, 2007

Recently our Freshman Pre-AP class finished reading selections from Plato’s Republic and applied our new knowledge. To apply our knowledge we outlined the guidelines for a new high school, Utopia High. Following our discussion of the selected book, the student outlined their ideas in groups, supported their ideas in a class discussion and finally wrote about the new school. The areas cover include the following:

Categories of people at your high school (e.g. Students, teachers, etc.)
School schedule
Extracurricular activities
Facilities (e.g. Libraries, labs, etc.)
Admission requirements
Causes for expulsion

Coincidentally, Edutopia published and article outlining futurist Alvin Toffler’s idea on the future of schools. I noticed this article in reading my wife’s blog, Musings From the Academy. After conducting a Technorati search on Toffler I found another blog posting on the article at CreativeClass.org. I pointed out the other blog posting to my class and they proceeded to extend the conversation outside of the walls of our class by leaving comments on the Musings blog. Angla noted to the CreativeClass audience of the discussion and expanded our audience again. When I explain to the class how many people were now involved in the discussion they were amazed. Just another example of the power of blogging. And yes, I realized following my posting of my comments of the typo.

Enjoy your day,

E-books and the end of an industry

November 16, 2006

I recently read an article on eSchool News online that notes the idea being explored by area school districts to focus on e-Books rather than traditional hard bound textbooks. This seems to me to be more than a reasonable idea. The primary arguement for this change is the ability for e-Books to maintain accurate information in ways that hard bound books cannot. I recall being in school following the end of the Cold War and in an instant the maps in our Geography books that showed a large pink area named the U.S.S.R. was void. While this information was now incorrect it was not cost effective for the School District to purchase new books. The use of on-line textbooks and websites such as Wikipedia allow for the information teachers present to students to be both up to date and cost effective.

The obvious outcry will come from the textbook publishers. While many publishers have spent the past several years creating on-line supplements to their hard bound books, what response will they have to completely on-line books? After all, textbook publishing is a large industry. This of course begs the question as to who we as educators serve, the students or the economy. If we can transfer literally thousands of dollars from purchasing hard bound textbooks that will soon be outdated to the purchasing of technology that will allow our students to keep up with new information should their be a question as to this action? What response will the publishing companies have to this action?

I am not foolish enough to believe that E-Books will replace hard bound books overnight, although it would be a positive change. As a teacher of World Literature the focus of my class is heavily on ancient text that are available on-line thanks to the Project Gutenberg. While this does not help my students, as most of then already own their textbooks, it does work as an alternative. In the future I could eliminate this cost to my students or transfer these funds to materials such as field trips or other experiences.

In honor of fair disclosure I must admit that this ruins my business plan. Since college I have intended to purchase a book store to finance my retirement. After all what industry allows the holder of all of the assests to purchase back the assests at a greatly reduced cost after a short period of time only to resell these same assets and make an additional profit. Then, after several seasons of reselling, add a new picture or two to claim that the previous edition is outdated and discontinue its use.

This really is a great idea. Oh well, Back to playing the lotto.

World eBook Fair–free through Friday

July 31, 2006

I returned from my two weeks of traveling (a wedding in Austin, a honeymoon in San Francisco, and wrestling nationals in Fargo) to have my wife tell me about the World eBook Fair. If you have not had the opportunity to check this out, Wedding Partydo so before Friday. This is the last week a free access to the World eBook Fair search engine. After this Friday the website will return to its $8.95 yearly fee, still a great deal. Currently, World eBook Fair provides access to 1/3 million eBooks. The goal is to have one million eBooks by 2009.

The current free month is in celebration of Project Gutenberg, 35 years old. I started using Project Gutenberg in college as a means to complete research at the library without having to carry several literature books at once. This was also in a time when PDAs and laptops were not a common among students. As schools continue to embrace technology I feel that eBooks will become a popular trend. I have been using on-line text as alternatives in my English and History courses the past three years.

San Francisco

Will eBooks work in educational settings? Consider this: Weight—this is a concern of parents when purchasing text books. I see more students each year arriving to school with back packs that resemble airport luggage relying on wheels to transport books from classroom to classroom.

Cost: many of the books used in schools are texts that do not fall under copyright laws because of their age. Textbooks companies make money by organizing these texts into a single book. Using eBooks can eliminate the need for a single textbook with all of these eBooks available on a PDA. This can reduce costs as current research shows that schools are using PDAs as an alternative to laptops when the school is facing financial difficulties; which are most schools I know.

Flexibility: If a student has on-line access to text, then you eliminate leaving your books at school or home. This also assists those students who think they are too cool to be seen with books. Putting a PDA in your pocket takes little space.

Readability: I feel this is an unsupported excuse for those resistant to embracing technology. While researching the educational uses of PDA for a graduate class I found no information that supports difficulty with students reading texts from PDAs. Students already read text messages on phones and instant messages on home computers. The screens on PDAs are usually larger than both phone screens and text message boxes. Secondly, if a student has a home computer they can upload the text to a PDA and use the larger screen. Most businesses require employees to read information from a desktop computer, so this is a skill that our students should learn in school anyway.

Regardless of your thoughts on this issue check out the World eBook Fair and see if any on the eBooks interest you. Just remember, the free period ends this Friday.